February 28, 2024

OAKLAND, Calif. – Google has infringed Sonos ‘held patents in speaker technology and should not be allowed to import products that infringe Sonos’ intellectual property, a judge said in a preliminary ruling by the United States International Trade Commission released Friday.

In January 2020, Sonos sued Google in federal court and before the United States International Trade Commission, a quasi-judicial body that decides on trade cases and can block the import of patent-infringing goods. Google later counterclaimed Sonos, claiming Sonos was infringing its patents.

Sonos had asked the commission to block the import of Google Home smart speakers, the company’s Chromecast systems, and its Pixel phones and computers. These products are made in China and shipped to the United States.

The brief verdict did not explain why Judge Charles E. Bullock believed Google had violated the Tariff Act of 1930, which aims to prevent unfair competition through measures such as importing products bearing US patents, trademarks or Infringing copyrights.

The judgment of the judge is not the last word. The whole commission has to consider whether to accept or reverse his decision in favor of a final decision to be taken on December 13th. If an import ban were imposed, it wouldn’t take effect for 60 days – long after the holiday shopping season.

José Castañeda, a spokesman for Google, said the company was not using Sonos’ technology. “We do not agree with this preliminary ruling and will continue to advance our arguments in the upcoming review process,” he said.

On Wednesday, Eddie Lazarus, Sonos’ Chief Legal Officer, described Google as a “serial infringer” of Sonos patents. In a conference call with analysts, he estimated that Google had infringed more than 150 Sonos patents, although it only posed problems with five of the Commission’s patents. The case before the commission was just “the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

On Friday, Mr. Lazarus said in a statement: “This decision confirms the strength and breadth of our portfolio and marks a promising milestone in our long-term quest to defend our innovation against misappropriation by big-tech monopolies.”

Sonos has said that Amazon is also infringing its patents – an allegation that Amazon denies. Sonos executives have said they only took legal action against Google because they didn’t know if they could sue two tech giants at the same time.

Sonos pioneered the market for home speakers that can be controlled from a smartphone and wirelessly sync music between different speakers around the house. In the past few years, Google, Amazon, and Apple have all penetrated the voice-activated speaker market. Sonos also offers speakers that use Google Assistant software or Amazon’s similar Echo technology to control the device.

Sonos and Google are also involved in litigation over patents in California and Texas, as well as France, Germany and the Netherlands.

Sonos’ share price rose 6 percent in after-hours trading on Friday.